This is the story of an urban confrontation. It was well on the way to becoming a mess. Instead, it turned into a love feast.
The cast of characters:
Ken Schindler, a college student from Millburn, N.J., working as a summer intern for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Robert McDaniel and David James, executives for L'Enfant Properties, Inc. -- the company that manages L'Enfant Plaza.
A bicycle -- upon which Schindler was riding to work at L'Enfant Plaza every weekday.
And a tree -- about 10 feet high, about three inches thick, to which Schindler chained his bike last Friday for about 40 minutes while he cashed a check at the Riggs National Bank L'Enfant Plaza branch and bought a sandwich.
Maybe Schindler didn't see the no parking-of-bikes sign near the tree he chose. Maybe he chose not to see it.
Whichever, when he returned from his errands, the only thing on the tree was a Xeroxed note on L'Enfant Properties stationery. It said Schindler's lock had been snipped and his bike impounded.
Schindler went immediately to reclaim what he calls My primary method of transportation." He soon discovered it was no longer capable of transporting anyone.
The carnage: "Bent wheels, a pedal crankshaft that skips, a bent chain guide, and it was permanently in low gear." Schindler said.
Quickly, voices started getting raised and fingers started getting pointed.
Schindler said the damage (it proved to be $59 worth) was the handiwork of an overzealous security guard. So Schindler threatened to take L'Enfant Properties to small claims court.
L'Enfant officials said if he did so, they'd countersue for the scrape marks on their tree.
But L'Enfant's own employee had put the scrapes there, not him, Schindler pointed out.
Maybe that was so and maybe it wasn't, L'Enfant officials replied. But they pointed out that none of this would have happened if Schindler had heeded the no parking sign and put his bike in the rack in the garage.
Contacted about two hours later, Schindler sounded upset enough to leap L'Enfant Plaza in a single bound.
"Angry? That isn't the word for it," he bristled. "Why didn't I get a warning? Why didn't I get a ticket? I guess I disobeyed a sign, but I don't see it as grounds to mangle my bike."
If this were a movie, the picture of Schindler shouting into the phone would gently dissolve to one of him sitting quietly a month later in a blue suit in a courtroom, ready to make his corporate antagonists pay.
In fact, what happened was that McDaniel and James spent the weekend thinking it over.
They decided they were wrong.
They agreed to pay Schindler the $59 to have his bike fixed.
"On the one hand, I felt he shouldn't have parked where he parked," explained McDaniel, L'Enfant's director of property management. "but unfortunately, there is such a thing as human error. We wanted to show we're not all bad."
Added James, the vice president for finance: "We don't want him to have a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to L'Enfant Plaza."
"I'm pleased. I'm surprised. I'm really surprised. I mean, like, y'know, I'm glad. I'm perfectly satisfied."
Then Schindler paused. "I guess shock is the best way to describe my reaction," he said.
So much for the heartless urban jungle. Case closed.
One learns many things during a career in journalism. But when this career journalist found out from several of you last week that he can't even use a famous four letter word properly . . . well, that was a lesson for sure.
Which word did old genius fluff, you cry?
Put it this way. It wasn't love -- but it was an impolite synonym for what many of us do to show it.
Actually, when he sinned, Mr. Genius was discussing That Word on the occasions when it has an "ing" on the end.
He said that, when you write "blanking bleep," or a similar phrase, "blanking" is an adverb.
Oh, my, the hoots and catcalls.
One anonymous correspondent said I should have my license to type revoked. "Don't you know an adjective modifies a noun, you clown?" he/she wrote.
James Wilson, of McLean, questioned my schooling. "I can only surmise you weren't paying attention in the third grade," he said (Actually, I was. To girls).
E. E. Brown, of Falls Church, fired the most telling arrow: "Wait till Bill Gold sees this!"
Mr. G. has no defense, folks. He will not swear never to use That Word again. He knows himself too well. He will simply try to be more blanking careful in the future.